Eddie Jones has challenged England to gain revenge for last year’s Six Nations defeat against Wales when the two sides meet this weekend, but batted away any questions regarding the coronavirus outbreak in an effort to avoid distractions of their cancelled finale next weekend against Italy.
The Six Nations confirmed on Thursday that all three games between Italy and England scheduled for the final weekend of the tournament have been postponed, with Jones’s side facing up to playing their encounter at Rome’s Stadio Olimpico later in the year along with the women’s and under-20’s matches.
Jones refused to discuss the cancelled fixture in an effort to keep focus on Saturday’s Wales clash, and admitted that the painful memory of the 21-13 Cardiff defeat that cost them the title will be used as motivation this time around.
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“Everyone’s focused on Wales,” insisted the England head coach. “We had a great training run yesterday, and the boys are excited about playing Wales. You’ve got to remember they beat us last year so we owe them one.
“They’re a well-coached team, we know they’ve lost their last two so they’ll come hard at us. That’s the only thing we can talk about. The only thing we’ve got to worry about is playing Wales on Saturday. We don’t think any other way.”
It will be the first time that Jones has come up against Wales without Warren Gatland opposite him, with Wayne Pivac taking over from his fellow Kiwi and leading the side to just one win from their first three games after losing to Ireland and France.
“They’ve lost two games,” Jones added. “They’ve got a new coach and they’ll want to make a statement on Saturday.
“Traditionally our games are very close and tight games so they’ll come with a lot of enthusiasm and a lot of energy. They’re two veterans (Ken) Owens and Alun Wyn Jones will lead the way and they’ll be a tough team.
“They pass the ball a little bit more, but there isn’t any great change at the moment – they’re a still a very good team.
They were semi-finalists at the World Cup and to get that far you have to be a good team.”
Jones elected to make one additional change to the side that beat Ireland on top of the one he was forced in to, with flanker Sam Underhill ruled out with a head injury resulting in Mark Wilson’s return to the squad. The on-loan Sale Sharks forward has just one appearance for the club this season since joining from relegated Newcastle Falcons, having undergone knee surgery after the Rugby World Cup, but he joins Anthony Watson in returning to the starting line-up after recovering from injury.
Jones said: “Mark’s had a hard route. He was great for us during the World Cup. He’s a terrific team man. He’s had to go through a knee operation and rehab but he’s come back in, is fit and full of beans and has added a lot of energy to the team.”